David Wong was a rambunctious child growing up in Vancouver, a handful for his parents to deal with.
Drawing cartoons and reading comic books was a way for him to keep out of trouble.
He started with the usual Disney comic book characters initially, and then began to read Classic Illustrated comics, graphic recreations of books such as David Copperfield, Tale Of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
He wanted to pursue a career as a cartoonist, further inspired by the works of graphic novelist pioneer Will Eisner, but his parents wanted him to follow a career vision to become a professional which offered better employment prospects, which led him to become an architect.
Today, Wong has long since sold his architectural firm he eventually built up, and put his energies back into his childhood love, writing Escape To Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America.
For Wong, a fifth generation Canadian, the book led Wong on a five-year research odyssey to write a story that represented the stories of thousands of Chinese people who came to North America and made sacrifices in order to give the next generation of their families a better life.
Earlier this week, Wong spoke about his historic document research experience and interviewing family elders, and the racism, reconciliation and leadership parallels between immigrant Chinese and the Indigenous people of North America, sponsored by UBCO.
Wong said the impact of blatant racism imposed on Chinese immigrants dating back 100 years ago with a head tax and government Exclusion Act to discourage Chinese immigration, and how how that impacted families in search of a better life that China could not offer.
“We were looking back then for land and opportunity, and North America was one area that many Chinese looked to,” he said.
He said similar hardships have been endured to this day on Indigenous people who faced similar racism and cultural diminished policies they are still trying to recover from today.
“The one thing I had no idea about until I talked with some of my elders is who the Chinese workers who came here to work on the railway, how when people were sick or injured, they would be abandoned as construction of the rail line moved on, and it was Indigenous people who would take these people and care for them, nurture them back to health,” Wong said.
He noted how many Chinese men also married Indigenous people, because there were few Chinese women here at the time.
“There used to be a close and harmonious relationship between us, a support for each other’s community that faced similar challenges,” he said.
Wong said talk of reconciliation is an important step, but so is leadership on all sides to not be held back by the past, to acknowledge past injustices and look to the future with a more positive outlook.
“You don’t get anywhere if you just pass grudges down from generation to generation…I want to see us working together to create a better world for our grandchildren.”
To that end, in 2013 Wong was honoured as one of 57 distinguished Canadians inducted as an Honourary Witness by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and appointed to the multi-cultural advisory board of B.C.
Wong wanted his book to re-invigorate the art of storytelling around the dinner table, where elders can share their memories with a younger generation so they don’t die with them.
“Without knowing your history, it becomes hard to move forward,” Wong said.
He wanted Gold Mountain to celebrate cultural diversity, because of the opportunity for innovation it creates to enhance the lives of our children and future generations.
“You just have to look at the Pacific Northwest. It’s no accident that high-tech companies and airline companies have found such success. It is an area that has become a gathering place for people from around the world, coming together to share ideas and become a hotbed for creativity,” he said.
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